Nicias and Hai took a deep breath, watching as the aplomado landed feet from the avian queen, Sive, and her cousin – the serpiente king – Salem.
“Nicias, Hai, come out here,” said Syfka, sparing a glance towards the royalty as Syfka’s guards fanned out, blocking the royals own force.
They stepped out, diffusing the situation minutely.
“Darien tells me that you’ve seen a quemak, Hai, who is only just growing into her magic rather late.”
The people of the land and other two falcons winced as she spoke the curse of a mixed-blood easily. Hai scowled with a glare in her dark eyes.
“I have, but I haven’t notified Darien or the falcons. Nicias and I were going to go retrieve her.”
Syfka laughed harshly, throwing her head back. “And you think the Lady would have let you? You’re a pure-blood, yes, and you’re a royal in this court, but you’re still under the Lady’s rule.”
“What do you think you’re going to do? Have your Mercy stop us?” Nicias questioned, stepping closer to the woman. “The girl is but a child of twenty. Hai and I will bind her before we let you drive her into madness.”
“Is she yours, Nicias? Surely, the woman is not a mistake of yours?”
Nicias struck her with his magic, daring the woman or the Mercy of the Empress to retaliate. Hai’s smile was cruel as the Mercy stepped back, knowing that they wouldn’t attack Nicias, as per Araceli and Cjarsa’s command.
“Tell Araceli and Cjarsa that I will go see the half falcon-half witch. She will not be trouble to the falcons. She was born away from shape-shifters as a human, a mortal, and we will bind her. That is all,” Nicias said, daring Syfka to contradict him.
Salem, serpiente king and part ruler of the land the falcons were currently on – Wyvern’s Court – stepped forward. “Syfka, I must insist you take Nicias’ word and return to your lands on Ahnmik, because we would rather you not be here.”
Although Salem and Sive were not stronger than Syfka, they were the ones who upheld the laws of the land. So when Sive stepped beside Salem in a clear gesture of backing him, Syfka took her falcon form and rose into the air with a shriek.
“Are you certain this is a good idea, Nicias?” Sive asked, once the skies were clear. Her golden eyes took in the head of her Wyvern’s guard, and Salem glanced at both the serpiente and avian forces.
Hai answered for him, “We are taking Oliza and Betia for support and as peace-keepers in the land the girl is in. Surely, our influence and Oliza’s smooth skills with people should easily keep the mortals at ease.”
“And she is with humans; you’re sure?” Salem asked as they began to walk towards the edge of the woods where Oliza and Betia’s camp were.
“The girl grew up believing she was just human with no special abilities and the only people around her is a Triste witch who should let us help her. They don’t know much about falcon magic, and they haven’t been able to help her with it.”
“You saw this?”
“In my sakkri, yes, my lady Sive.”
Both monarchs nodded, wishing them luck as they walked deeper into the woods for the wyvern Oliza and her wolf mate Betia.
Ansley Windrow took a deep breath of the fresh air. She had spent too much time trying to get the actors to quiet down and work. Sadly, her figure was not as imposing as her friend’s, Alexander, but he had insisted that he had had an appointment with a doctor. She scowled. In the four years she had known him, Alexander never had had a doctor’s appointment.
Someone called to her a distance away, and she turned and nodded with a smile, but continued to walk down the road toward the bus stop. It wasn’t late, the sun was just setting, and usually she would walk towards her flat, but Alexander always insisted that she mustn’t without him when the sun was setting in case she had a dizzy spell and pass out – as she had done many times before. So, she sat on the bench and waited, eyes floating upwards to find the early, bright lights of the planets that most assumed were stars.
“Ansley, I shouted for you,” an unfamiliar voice said from her side.
She looked up, finding four strangers standing next to her as she sat on the bench. They were the newest addition to the crew Arthur had sent over from the academy of the city. Smiling, she stood politely.
“Forgive me, I thought it was simply someone saying adieu. Most do. Did everything go alright today? Most treat you fine?”
The man, with blonde hair and streaks of blues and purples in it, stepped forward to reply, “They were fine to us, yes.” His voice was accented, but she couldn’t place it. “We are not sure which bus to take to where we are staying.”
Nodding, she took a small book from her purse that hung across her body. “Arthur left me your address, and Alexander would usually give you a tour of the town, but he’s… elsewhere. Doctor, is what he said.” Something in her voice and eyes said she didn’t believe it. She smiled largely after saying it, flipping towards the pages where their information was kept.
“Nicias and Hailey, it seems you’re close to Oliza and…Betia? Did I say that correctly?” The girl in question nodded, a small smile flitting across her face. “You’re in the same building as me, it seems. Totally normal. Arthur usually keeps new people close to the bosses until they find flats or homes that they like.”
“And you’re the boss?” asked who Ansley assumed was Oliza; Arthur had said Oliza and Nicias seemed like the take-charge types of the group.
Ansley smiled as the bus rolled to a stop feet from them. “Damn near. Come on, this is our ride.” Ansley smiled larger as the driver greeted her softly and with a nod. As she sat, she motioned for the others to sit close. “Alexander is in charge, but I am assistant director. What he can’t do, I help with. He and I have worked for four years together through many projects for the stage, but usually it has to do with music.”
“Four years? You’re what – 19?” Hailey asked, eyes staring out past Ansley and to the sky.
Ansley nodded, standing and pulling on a cord to stop the driver. “Yes; Alexander and I have been working for years, and I’m good at music.”
As they walked to the door to the flat, the door opened and revealed a man who seemed bathed in gold. His eyes, hair, and skin were all a fair color. He grinned widely and stepped down to the top step and reached out a hand to grab Ansley’s bag.
She gave it to him, stepped past him to the hallway, and opened a metal box. “How was the doctor?” She asked, glancing back at the man. “They’re moving in here, Alexander. Nicias, Hailey, Betia, and Oliza – the four that Arthur sent over to help with the gap the Tyler’s left.”
Alexander nodded, eyes dark as he looked at the four.
What can I help you with? Alexander questioned, stepping away from the door to let them in.
You can’t, answered Hai, that we know of, Triste. Ansley is part falcon, and we’re here to help her, were she to need it.
We’ll see. Hai smiled, and to Ansley, it seemed like she was simply being kind to Alexander.
“Alexander, could you go get their keys?”
“I have them,” he said, pulling out a group of separated keys from his pocket.
“Oh.” Ansley frowned for a moment, her pink lips pulled thinly. Her eyes, which in the light were bright blue, darkened to a deep brown before lighting once more as she turned to Alexander. “Well, thank you. We’ll take the lift up to our floor. Would you like to order take-away?”
Alexander followed her, knowing the shape-shifters were following.
As they got to the correct floor, a girl bumped into Ansley, making her nearly fall. Alexander caught her, calling out a curse and an unfamiliar name.
“What are you doing here, Rachel?”
The girl in question glared, dark eyes narrowed. “Looking for you. It seems a friend of yours has a rather persistent state of mind, and I must deliver a message.”
Ansley, having recovered, motioned for the strangers to get out of the elevator. “The door will be open, Alexander.” She knew when to not bother her friend, and when he had messages, it was best to let them be. She led the way down the hall, and opened her door. “Your rooms are the last two on this side. Two keys are alike for each door, as Arthur asked.” She didn’t even spare a glance at Rachel. Had she, she would have noticed that Rachel looked too much like Alexander, and spoke similarly.
“Has he a lot of guests?” questioned Betia, trying to seem nonchalant.
Ansley half-answered, setting her things down and toeing off her shoes. “He knows a lot of people. Helps out a lot, and they like their privacy.” She shrugged, flicking on her TV to a news station and taking off the upper layer of her t-shirt.
She grabbed a stack of random sized papers and set them on the coffee table in front of the four who had squeezed on her sofa. “Just look through those; we frequent them and like them, so any is okay with us.”
Alexander stepped in, the girl behind him. “Rachel needs a place to stay, so she’s staying with me.” To the strangers, he sounded fine, but a look at him and Ansley knew he was not happy.
She nodded distantly. “Notes are where they usually are,” she told him, waving toward the counter where her purse sat. Her eyes were looking past him and Rachel, and she opened her mouth to speak, but swayed, arm reaching instinctively out to catch herself.
Alexander was behind her as soon as she swayed, and took her gently to the floor. Touching her cheek with the back of his hand, he made her sleep.
“Your child, Alexander?” Rachel said.
His eyes, glaring as he caught his sister’s, flashed. “Pandora did not tell you, Risika? Surely so.” He picked her up with ease as the shape-shifters moved so he could lay her down on her sofa. “It’s the falcon magic, but I’m going to bind it,” he said, tucking a pillow behind her head. “I just have to let Triste power do what it can to minimize it.”
“Who is the mother?” Hai asked, trying to find the pattern of magic of whom she would have been borne.
Alexander shook his head. “She is gone, and Ansley has me.”
“She doesn’t know you’re her father!” Oliza butted in, stepping close.
Alexander stood straight, turning to the group. “It is better that she doesn’t. I would rather it that way till I can help her. I’ve been monitoring her all her life.”
Oliza rolled her eyes, looking at the sleeping girl. Ansley had hair like her father, but it was a few shades darker than the golden he had. Her skin was milky pale, but the time in the sun was apparent and she was tanned delicately. Oliza noted that her eyes were normally a soft blue, but when she looked too deeply at a thought, they shaded into a dark gold like Alexander’s. Perhaps the girl was a daughter of a royal falcon? Some strong falcon, that much was true.
Alexander turned around, sharply looking at Oliza. “Wyvern, your thoughts are loud, even to me. Stop thinking of who her mother might be and just sit. She will wake soon, when the food is here.”
Oliza looked to Nicias, eyebrow raised.
“Hai and I block your thought patterns so we cannot hear them; it is not strange that a witch of his strength could easily hear you without him wanting to. Or the vampire, as well.” He looked to Risika as he added the last part.
Alexander moved to drape a cover around Ansley, and toed his shoes off, running a hand through his hair. He looked over Risika once, then twice. “Would you like to change into something fitting?”
Her eyes regarded him cautiously, but she shrugged. “If you insist, but I am comfortable in what I am wearing.” Her clothing was tight and barely there. Her top rose just about her naval, and her pants hung low and were cut mid-thigh.
“I insist,” he answered, walking to the closet to find a spare outfit he kept at Ansley’s.
Risika sat at the counter of the kitchen, waiting for the door to ring with the delivery of food. Once it had arrived, she brought it to sit on the coffee table, sending a thought to Alexander to come from his meditation.
As soon as the food was settled, Ansley slowly woke up, blinking away tired thoughts and quickly fading dreams. Sitting up, she turned to find five sets of eyes watching her. Her frown was momentary. She shivered, eyes closing for a second before leaning against the couch and reaching to her side to grab a glass that had water. Gulping it down, she closed her eyes once more.
“Forgive me; I don’t think I’ve eaten today.”
“Is that normal?” Betia asked, moving toward her to touch her cheek. “You’re on fire.”
Ansley smiled, getting to her knees to watch as Alexander walked into the room. When he got close, she leaned her head against his chest as he smoothed down her hair. “Is it normal to not eat all day? Sometimes. I just don’t feel hungry occasionally and when one is on one’s feet for that day, exhaustion decides to take over.” Her voice was softly rough from sleep, and her eyes had taken an odd mixture of colors of gold and blue. She tugged on Alexander and scooted over so he could climb over the couch to sit.
“They like Indian.”
She nodded, picking up a small box and a plastic utensil. “Just dig in. Rachel still here?”
“I prefer Risika.”
Again, Ansley nodded as she put food in her mouth.